Former CIA Director James Woolsey said on CNN on Sunday that “not all leaks have to be classified” to be deemed inappropriate when they are disclosed “in an unauthorized way.”
While speaking with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Woolsey said he found it “stunning” that former FBI Director James Comey took copious notes of his conversations with President Donald Trump and subsequently had them leaked after his firing. Woolsey, who served as former President Bill Clinton’s CIA director and advised the Trump campaign and transition for a short period, said he found Comey’s testimony and his admission that he leaked the memos to a friend of his to be “worrisome.”
“I find it amazing that he would take detailed notes of a meeting with the president and then leak them to a friend who’s at, I think, Columbia Law School, and then have them give them to the press,” Woolsey said.
Zakaria attempted to exonerate Comey for leaking the memos, saying he thought the word “leak” was not appropriate because Comey was “a private citizen” at the time of the leaking.
“These were notes recollecting his conversation with the president. They were not classified,” Zakaria argued. “A private citizen is allowed to share his notes, you know, in a conversation with any government official, with a friend, with the press. ‘Leaking’ involves disclosing classified government information in an unauthorized way, as you well know, having been the director of the CIA.”
Woolsey corrected him.
“No. Well, not all leaks have to be classified,” he said. “There are a number of things that are extremely sensitive without meeting the technical requirements for classification. And I just found it stunning that [Comey] would, I think, give up the secrecy of a conversation with the president of the United States.”
Ever since Trump took office, his administration has been plagued by leaks coming from the White House and the Department of Justice. Although the definition of what constitutes “leaking” remains murky, some believe that the former FBI director’s actions may have violated several sections of the FBI’s employment agreement.
The agreement states in Section 2 that “all information acquired by me in connection with my official duties with the FBI and all official material to which I have access remain the property of the United States of America. I will surrender upon demand by the FBI, or upon my separation from the FBI, all materials containing FBI information in my possession.”
Section 3 requires an employee to “not reveal, by any means, any information or material from or related to FBI files or any other information acquired by virtue of my official employment to any unauthorized recipient without prior official written authorization by the FBI.”
And Section 4 stipulates that “prior to making any disclosure, I will seek a determination of whether the information may be disclosed.”
Following Comey’s confession that he asked a friend to leak his memos to the media, Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, announced he was considering whether to file a complaint against the former FBI director. Calling Comey’s decision “an unauthorized disclosure of privileged information,” Kasowitz said in a statement: “We will leave it to the appropriate authorities to determine whether these leaks should be investigated along with all those others being investigated.”
Woolsey theorized that Comey’s actions may symbolize even deeper struggles within the inner workings of the government.
“I’ve worked for four presidents in different capacities, and not everything you talk to them about is classified,” Woolsey said. “But I think that that really symbolizes to me how, where we’ve come in this battle that is internal to one of the branches.”
The former CIA director warned against the dangers of an internal “struggle” within the executive branch that causes both the branch and the public to focus on less important issues instead of the major ones facing the country.
“I think, in part, what’s happened is that people who opposed [Trump] and who opposed his general approach to things — and some people don’t oppose his policies so much as they oppose his personality — has created a situation where we are not focusing on the things that we have to focus on,” Woolsey said.
“We have to get the executive branch — and particularly the intelligence community and the law enforcement community — pulled together, working together and behind the president in pulling things into a working order. We don’t have that now,” Woolsey lamented. “And I think some elements of both the intelligence community, and certainly the law enforcement community, have veered off, looking into their own interests and not looking into the interests of the country. This has to get repaired, and repaired rather quickly.”